Very early doors it looked like the home side were going to take the game to us and came out the blocks with a spell of pressure for all of two minutes. In which some great defending from both Phil Bardsley coming across to cover and Danny Rose both managed to quell what attack they could put together. In the teeming rain Simon Mignolet looked less than convincing on an early corner, but managed to do just enough to see the ball safe.
From then on during the opening ten minutes it was all Sunderland. Danny Graham saw a shot charged down well in close quarters, before a chip over the top from Adam Johnson saw Craig Gardner beat Brad Guzan to the ball but couldn't force the ball into the net with Joe Bennett covering on the line.
Things then got quiet. Perhaps a little too quiet as the rest of the half would go on to prove.
Gabriel Agbonlahor hit the ignition of the game with a neat little one-two with Christian Benteke to break through the Sunderland defence and bear down on Mignolet. The former England striker (no, really) however could only slice the ball an inch the wrong side of the post, but the warning signs were there. Having allowed Villa to play the ball around at will in front of us for ten minutes or so, eventually something was going to come.
That happened on the half hour when Ron Vlaar opened the scoring with his first goal for the club. Having seen a string of shots blocked in great fashion the Dutch defender felt he'd show everyone how it was done and picked the ball up just inside the Sunderland half. A couple of steps later he unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot which through a sea of bodies and on a skidding surface gave Mignolet no chance as it nestled in the bottom corner. A very nice strike.
The joy however was short-lived.
"Broadway" Danny Rose had ideas of his own, and he more than lived up to that billing when he got himself forward and played a one-two with Danny Graham. Rose continued his run into the area and finished first time, left-footed beyond a helpless Guzan to level things up just one minute after conceding the lead.
Finally on level pegging. Vlaar's striker was decent, but Villa hadn't looked convincing or dominant to be on top of things. They did retake the lead though and it was some "classic" Sunderland defending which allowed it.
Remember when a simple ball over the top would absolutely kill us on account of Phil Bardsley forgetting he's a defender? Halcyon days. Anyway, this is what happened again. When the ball was picked up on the left every man and their dog could see the dangerous Andreas Weimann in acres of space. He was found and dispatched clinically past Mignolet with ten minutes left of the half. A killer blow having gotten ourselves back into contention.
A couple of half-chances came by way of a long distance drive by Alfred N'Diaye which had Guzan scrambling, and another from Johnson which didn't.
The ball was in the net on the cusp of half-time when Gardner slid in to finish however Lee Probert had already whistled for a foul on Guzan by Danny Graham.
A re-think was required by Paolo Di Canio who had his first teamtalk to give to his Sunderland players when down at the halfway point.
Whatever he did do to try and turn things around in the second half didn't seem very apparent in the opening throws of the second half. Barring a nice move between N'Diaye and Sessegnon there was little to write home about. The passing was incredibly sloppy and it was little surprise when after nine minutes of the half we were made to pay.
Agbonlahor fired in a rasper from about 25-yards which clipped the back of Bardsley and had Mignolet scrambling to stop it. He managed, but could only beat it away as far as a unmarked Benteke who stooped in to score and give the hosts a valuable lead.
Five minutes later the game was put very much beyond doubt when Benteke grabbed his second and Villa's fourth.
Bardsley gave away a corner under little to no pressure, form which Westwood crossed and Benteke had a simple header from a standing jump to rise highest and nod down into an unguarded bottom corner.
Between this we had one nice bit of play from Adam Johnson and one incredibly poor. A cross was an inch away from N'Diaye connecting with it on the slide and also a whisker away from creeping in the bottom corner. We also saw the worst when a chance to shoot from the edge of the area ended up in the top corner of the stand as opposed to the net.
Di Canio rung his first change in the wake of the the fourth goal bringing on James McClean for an ineffectual Seb Larsson. Not that many in red and white were looking particularly effectual.
It could quite easily however have been five with little over an hour on the clock. Benteke again causing problems as he lashed one across goal from the back post which landed at the feet of Weimann. The Austrian struck twice but found Mignolet and Cuellar on the line able to spare our blushes further.
A disastrous night had a cap put on it when Stephane Sessegnon was sent off. Chasing down a 50-50 ball with Yacuba Sylla the striker was second to it and certainly caught Sylla but it certainly wasn't bad enough to warrant a red card in my book. The club might want to revisit this one in the morning as there could be a case for appeal.
Not that it should matter too much when Benteke completed his hattrick.
Carlos Cuellar attempted to bring the ball out of defence and failed abjectly. The ball came nicely for Benteke who finished neatly past Mignolet at the front post. Mignolet hardly covered himself in glory either allowing the his fellow Belgian to get the ball in from such a tight angle.
As we saw out the final twenty minutes Villa went into complete cruise control, ole-ing each completed pass and the fans even finding time to taunt Di Canio plenty. At this stage in the game if Sunderland had been a horse they wouldn't have just been punched, but punched to death and melted down into glue about fifteen minutes earlier.
Weimann had Mignolet worried yet again with five minutes of misery left to go, while for us there was a sense of mild intrigue as Mickael Mandron came on in relief of Danny Graham who looked to still be suffering the effects of Sunday night. Ahem. David Vaughan also came on for no apparent reason.
Oh right yes, that's why he came on. To play an awful back pass straight to Agbonlahor who rounded Mignolet and finished with ease. Well, if we're going to concede six at least we scored one. The ever so smallest of silver linings on a very grey cloud.
Mandron contributed an almost Benteke-esque header on goal towards the end but it would have counted for nothing.
The home side didn't so much dominate things, but certainly made our less than average play look even worse by controlling the ball well, using the weather to their advantage and generally playing us off the park.
Di Canio called this beforehand "like a Champions League final" for us. Well, if that's the case I'm glad we're one of those teams which only ever gets to watch such competition on TV because things would be even more embarrassing and awful in the real thing.
Paolo's had a big wake up call now, and if a win tonight was essential, it's absolutely monumental next week against Stoke City at home, because that goal difference isn't looking to clever any more.
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